Stand back: we’re about to drop some knowledge. It might sound absurd, but it is possible to fast and still eat when you want to. (Although side note: Yes, you with the handful of French fries halfway to your mouth. Step away from the salty goodness. Slowly. Because ‘when you want to’ is not the same thing as ‘whenever you want to’. That’s an important distinction.) Stick with us, we’re not pulling your leg. It’s all about embracing your inner smarty-pants when timing your fast-day meals. Associate Profession of Nutrition and global go-to for intermittent fasting research, Krista Varady PhD, talks us through how to nail the right time for your fast-day meal.
Why timing of your fast meal matters
In my first few studies of alternate day fasting, we asked the participants to consume the fast day meal as a lunch (between noon and 2 pm). I assumed that placing the meal in the middle of the day would break up the long fast into manageable periods and help people better adhere to the diet. To my surprise, many of the participants in our studies complained about the timing of the fast day meal. They said that consuming the meal as a lunch made it difficult to socialise at night with friends or eat dinner with their families in the evening. Approximately 30% of people complained about having to consume the fast day meal as a lunch in our original studies.
These were legitimate concerns, and I became immediately interested in seeing if the timing of the fast day meal had any effect on diet adherence and weight loss.
Research behind fast day meal timing
To test this out, my colleagues and I performed a study where we randomly assigned participants into one of three groups. The first group consumed the fast day meal in the middle of the day. The second group consumed the meal as a dinner, and the third group consumed the meal as mini-meals (100-200 calories) throughout the day.
In all honesty, I didn’t think that any of these new regimens would work. I was hesitant to let people save the meal for later in the day as I thought they would struggle with hunger early on, and as a result, cheat on the diet. I also assumed that the group consuming mini meals would be more likely to cheat as eating 100 calorie granola bars every few hours when you’re famished feels like an insult! Mini meals have always made me crave larger meals, so I thought this group would also cheat more.
So… the answer?
As the trial progressed, I slowly discovered that my assumptions were totally wrong. All the groups had great adherence to their fast day regimens, and all of them lost equal amounts of weight – about a half a kg a week! This knocked my socks off! Subjects in each of the groups were adherent with their fast day energy goal and the timing of the fast day meal on approximately 95% of days.
Subjects in all of the groups lost approximately four kilograms in eight weeks.
I was so happy that the diet could still be effective when we offered some flexibility with the fast day meal. This would make it easier for people to incorporate fasting into their lifestyles. It was great news all around.
So, no need to worry – feel free to consume the fast day meal at any time that suits your schedule. If you’re super hungry in the morning, then eat your meal then. If you can hold off until the evening, then suffice your cravings later in the day. Just remember to listen to your body and follow the regimen that works best for you.”
When do you have your first fast day meal? Share your gems of wisdom in the comments below.